Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul might be onto something.
For all the hand-wringing about whether his foreign-policy views could disqualify him from winning the Republican presidential nomination, recent polls suggest his skepticism about foreign entanglements might not be quite so out of step with GOP voters.
As troubles mount overseas, the Republicans’ once-steadfast support for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan has crumbled since President Barack Obama was sworn in for a second term, according to the results of a June Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll and a related Journal/NBC/Annenberg Survey.
In the latest Journal poll of 1,000 adults, conducted June 11-15, 58% of the Republican respondents said the war in Afghanistan wasn’t worth it, compared with the 37% who said it was. That’s an abrupt shift from January 2013, when just 37% of Republicans said the war wasn’t worth it. The Annenberg survey conducted days later found similar erosion in views about Iraq.
Peter Hart, the Democratic pollster who runs the Annenberg Survey, said the slide among Republicans helps explain why Americans as a whole view the war in Iraq less positively than they did 18 months earlier because GOP voters traditionally supported the U.S. invasion and the resulting occupation, while Democrats opposed it.
“Now, the Republicans have shifted to the negative side,” said Mr. Hart, who also helps conduct the Journal poll with Democrat Fred Yang and Republican Bill McInturff.
These deteriorating numbers for both wars coincide with a growing belief in the country as a whole that the U.S. should shrink from the world stage, as Iraq erupts in sectarian violence, tensions simmer in Ukraine and a civil war grinds on in Syria. For years, the wars were in Iraq and Afghanistan were a polarizing issue, “but now there’s a surprisingly level of agreement,” said Micah Roberts, a Republican who helps conduct the Journal poll.
Other polls have shown Republicans losing their taste for foreign engagements. In an April Journal poll, a plurality of Republicans said the U.S. should be less active in world affairs, 45%-29%.
Longstanding discontent with Mr. Obama could be fueling much of this drift, given Republicans’ anger with the president on a range of foreign-policy matters, from the 2012 attack in Benghazi, Libya, to the latest wave of violence in Iraq. Republicans expressed similar skepticism about engaging in foreign conflicts during Bill Clinton‘s presidency, according to Journal polls from the mid-1990s.
Mr. Paul has set himself apart from other Republicans expected to pursue the party’s presidential nomination in 2016 by advocating restraint on the world stage. He recently blamed the war in Iraq for this latest flare-up in violence, provoking a sharp rebuttal from former Vice President Dick Cheney.
Recent surveys suggest Republicans as a whole are far less hawkish than they were under former President George W. Bush. In the June Annenberg Survey of 1,383 Americans, 46% of Republicans said the war in Iraq wasn’t worth it, compared with the 44% who said it was.
The numbers on Afghanistan were even more pronounced. The slide among tea-party supporters was more dramatic than the slippage among Republicans as a whole, with 63% saying the war in Afghanistan wasn’t worth it, compared with the 39% who held that view in January of 2013.